In the spring of 2004, I was marginally bored. A lifelong follower of the Internets, I also noted a growing trend: that of the ridiculous Jay-Z mashup.
Inspired by the success of and controversy surrounding DJ Danger Mouse's Grey Album (which matches pieces of the Beatles' White Album to the Jay-Z Black Album acapellas), dozens of would-be Internet DJs began ham-fistedly mashing up isolated tracks with ironically-chosen landmarks of Caucasian culture-- Metallica, Weezer, you name it. Most of these projects were seemingly inspired by color-related wordplay between the Jay-Z and the targeted mashup artist (Weezer has their self-titled "blue album", Metallica their own Black Album, etc.).
Since I have a fair amount of experience with digital audio and making music with computers, I decided one night to join the bandwagon of the spring and make my own "joke" Jay-Z mashup. I really only intended to do a couple of tracks as a private joke for friends. While a couple of really unlikely pairings stood out to me (Tom Waits, Captain Beefheart, Wendy Carlos, etc.), I decided to take on Pavement-- largely because a number of my close pals were Pavement freaks, and also due to the epithet "slacker rock" that is commonly associated with them (or at least it is in my mind), which gave the project its finished name-- The Slack Album. I decided to draw from just one Pavement album-- Slanted and Enchanted, my personal favorite Pavement record, and also the favorite of many of my fan-buddies.
The first tracks were completed in a few hours; they were track 5, the obviously tongue-in-cheek hackjob "Change Conduits," followed by the much more musically successful "99 Problems Here."
My Pavement-loving pals didn't care very much. But just to see
what would happen, I posted links to these tracks on the blog-based homepage for the Jay-Z Construction Set-- which, for a brief period in time, was the hub of all things Jay-Z mashup-related, encouraging the kind of proletariat mashup job I was actually sort of mocking to begin with.
The tracks received some positive commentary, and-- predictably-- a fair amount of WHAT THE HELL. Much to my surprise, I also started seeing thousands of downloads for the files, along with inquiries from semi-major music sites like Pitchfork Media and amused / derisive commentary on various music-snob boards. I figured I might as well get the whole thing done before the whole fad evaporated, for giggles as much as anything else, and buckled down accordingly.
The Slack Album was completed in a little under three weeks and officially released on April 22, 2004. The last track to be finished, the side two opener "Loretta Clarity," was completed on 4/20/04-- 13 years to the day after the original release of Slanted and Enchanted. Through the modern-day miracle of BitTorrent, the complete album was downloaded over 2000 times in the first few weeks and at this point the number is still growing (over 15,000 total known downloads at last count).
Each of the two albums has 14 tracks-- something I noticed right off the bat. I maintained a "track for track" mashup approach, meaning that track 1 on S&E is matched to track 1 on The Black Album, and so forth. This limitation was decisive in the finished product; since tempo mismatches were often a concern (I'm no big fan of digital tempo stretching), I often resorted to a fragmentation technique, mating tiny reordered snippets of the Pavement tracks to a hip-hop beat, rather than taking a "true mashup" approach. Sometimes an original and whole Pavement riff is easy to spot; in other places, it's almost entirely obscured. On the other hand, sometimes Pavement wins out over Jay-Z, quite obviously. There are not many tracks on TSA that I would consider "real mashups." But it does go to show-- hopefully-- that just about anything can be made into a halfway decent beat with the right spirit... even Pavement.
While now, in 2006, the Jay-Z mashup craze has come and gone (not surprisingly!), The Slack Album continues to be downloaded every day, and was one of only a few of these mashups to earn passing mention in Allmusic.com's entry on the craze (Danger Mouse's, of course, being the memorable standout for most of us). I still hear pretty frequently from people who have just discovered the events of early 2004, got the album, and actually seem to have enjoyed the thing on more than a "novelty" level. I hope you enjoy it too.
- "dj n-wee", january 06